Thursday, April 17, 2014

California Wilderness: A new beginning in Death Valley

The Spring California Wilderness group has just finished the first segment of their journey: Death Valley. In this passage, John O'Mara shares his experience of wild horses, turquoise mines and how time in the wilderness has already impacted him profoundly.

On April 4th a group of complete strangers embarked into the Death Valley wilderness.  We arrived at Cottonwood Springs in the afternoon and immediately we were awestruck by rolling plains, jagged mountain ranges and warm soft sand between our toes.  The spring boasted of watercress, which became a staple in our nightly cooking.  In our time here at Cottonwood springs we explored the local history, and found traces of past life-- run down shacks, burned treasure chests, arrowheads, beads and remains of big horn sheep.  On one of my very first mornings of watching the sunrise, sitting in the big field overlooking the entire canyon I was approached by a wild horse. He was just as timid and nervous as I was, but over the time of our stay here at the springs this horse became a part of our group.  One morning, he even  came into our camp and made himself comfortable.  Through this experience I became so enthralled by the beauty of these majestic animals.  A few days later a herd of wild horses came and visited us, an experience that I will never forget.

In our days here we explored the surrounding areas, to an old turquoise mine and a mud flat overlook of the entire park.  A birds-eye view of a birds-eye view.  The experiential knowledge of the wilderness that I have gained in participating in the program has blown away any expectations that I had.  The sense of community that we have built amongst us is an extremely comfortable, tight knit and compassionate feeling.  I wake up every morning to the glow of dusk and go to bed every night in awe of the stars.                                                                                                                       

Academically our studies are an integral part of why this experience in nature is so special.  The curriculum is paired with each location; the wheels of knowledge are turning as our legs are churning out mountains and through meadows.  With each other we have a constant conversation of our academics foreshadowing the beauty of the state of California.  Almost daily I am struck with a moment of wonder in reading, discussing and critiquing the readings.  Personally this material has helped me reflect on my life thus far and what in life is important to me.  The time alone that we have the opportunity for has opened me up to see the value in what I am doing for my personal fulfillment as well as my contribution to a community.  Campfire dinners are boasting with flavor and the music that we collectively make with rattles and cans runs a euphoria through my body, as if I become part of the inspiring land with every meal and every song.  

The people that are in this program with me make the experience what it is.  Despite our age differences, interests, areas of study, we come together to create a transformational experience.  The opportunity to participate in Sierra institute is something I plan on sharing for the remainder of my life, the integration of nature and learning is like nothing I have ever or will ever again experience.  I plan on shifting my style of learning for the remainder of my college career, as this program is creating change within me that has and will positively affect me for the rest of my life.

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